Ecuador’s presidential and National Assembly campaign ends abruptly at midnight tonight as the three-day “quiet period” begins, continuing through Sunday’s election.
More important to most Ecuadorians and expats, however, is the ley seca, or dry law, which goes into force Friday at noon. It prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages until noon Monday and mandates that bars, discos, and liquor stores remain closed.
The law also prohibits the consumption of alcohol during the dry period, but it is only enforced in public areas, which are already covered by Cuenca’s anti-public drinking ordinance.
Restaurants can continue to operate during the dry period but cannot legally serve alcoholic beverages. According to one Cuenca restaurateur, the law is often skirted. “We usually serve beer and wine in coffee cups in case the police come knocking,” he said. “It’s a stupid law and everyone knows it, including the cops, but you have to be careful. I prefer not to serve mixed drinks during seca days but on one occasion, by special request, I put margaritas in coffee mugs.”
The law prohibits those who are visibly inebriated from voting on Sunday. The fine is 50% of the minimum wage.
According to the national police, 280 officers have been assigned to enforce the law in Azuay Province, which includes Cuenca.
According to Fernando Parra, a Cuenca high school history teacher, Ecuador’s dry law is a throw-back to the puritan past. “It’s really a nuisance and the tourism industry has complained for years that it hurts business,” he says. “After every election, the National Assembly talks about repealing it but nothing ever happens. As far as I know, the law only applies in Latin American countries and two or three in eastern Europe.”
Parra says the election ley seca is only the second strangest law in Latin America. “The weirdest is the one that prohibits you from leaving your house or apartment or hotel on national census day,” he says. “If you go outside and the police catch you, you can go to jail. Imagine being a tourist from Europe or Canada and walking out of your hotel and getting jugged by the cops.”